The NSW branch of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has placed a green ban on the site of the proposed Powerhouse Parramatta, adding industrial weight to the grassroots campaign to save two state heritage listed buildings.
The under-threat buildings are a Victorian Italianate villa, Willow Grove, and a complete row of seven terrace houses built from 1881, St George’s Terrace.
“These Green Bans mean no work can be done to destroy these historically significant sites,” said Darren Greenfield, the union’s NSW secretary.
“If the Berejiklian government wants work on the museum to proceed they need to sit down with the local community, listen to what they say and come up with a plan that preserves these buildings.”
Locals and heritage advocates have been campaigning to save the buildings, through the North Parramatta Residents Action Group, since plans for their demolition were made public in June 2018.
Their demands went unheeded, with the government’s brief for the new project requiring the demolition of both buildings. The competition winning design by Moreau Kusunoki and Genton, revealed in December 2019, would see the buildings demolished.
The alternative shortlisted designs were controversially kept under wraps until the development application for the winning design went on public exhibition. Only one of these, by Steven Holl Architects and Conrad Gargett, proposed to retain the heritage buildings. The jury found, however, that the scale of the proposal was not appropriate for the site, and that the juxtaposition between museum and heritage buildings would be “jarring.”
“The Berejiklian Government has ignored the local community and refused to look at alternative designs that incorporate these two heritage buildings in the design,” said Greenfield.
“The CFMEU is proud to stand with the community in support of this important campaign. As shown by the recent success of the Green Ban on the Bondi Beach Pavilion, the CFMEU won’t stand by while local communities are ignored and important heritage sites are destroyed.”
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has stood firm behind the project, however, telling the Sydney Morning Herald that it will proceed.
“One-third of NSW’s population is in western Sydney and they deserve to have an iconic cultural institution,” she said.
Suzette Meade, spokesperson for North Parramatta Residents Action Group, said the community would not stand by and watch as more local heritage is destroyed.
“The Berejiklian government bulldozed Parramatta’s war memorial pool, then it was the historic Royal Oak Hotel – a hotel older than Perth,” she said. “Premier Berejiklian should be under no illusion; if the destruction of Willow Grove or St Georges Terraces commences people will be prepared to put their bodies in front of machinery.”
The CFMEU is the union that succeeded the deregistered Builders Labourer’s Federation, the union of green bans pioneer Jack Mundey, who died this year. Darren Greenfield pointed to his legacy as an inspiration.
“This is the first Green Ban the CFMEU has put in place since the recent passing of Jack Mundey who inspired a generation of unionists and community activists to fight for our shared built, cultural, and environmental heritage,” he said.
Suzette Meade added, “Jack’s recent passing has reminded all of us that to simply be passive will only accelerate the destruction of Australia’s heritage and our activities honour Jack Mundey’s legacy.”